The U.S. Secret Service and Jamaican security officials locked down large sections of commercial Kingston, the capital, from Wednesday evening ahead of Thursday’s one-day visit of American President Barack Obama and his third summit meeting with Caribbean trade group leaders since his Trinidad visit in April 2009.
Obama is swinging through the island of almost three million people a day before he flies to Panama for the biennial Summit of Americas conference that will most likely be dominated by the formal re-entry of ex pariah nation, Cuba, and a possible bilateral and historic meeting between Obama and President Raul Castro.
His will be the second visit to Jamaica by an incumbent American president to a country regarded as perhaps the world most ‘upstartish’ nation compared to its geographic size and population and its achievements, for example, in culture and sports that have made it win global admiration.
Incidentally, Ronald Reagan chose to also visit the island on April 7, 1982, in the height of the Cold War that had seen countries such as Guyana, Jamaica, Cuba and nearby Nicaragua swinging to the ideological left while their neighbors led by Jamaica and Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean small islands standing firmly behind the U.S. and the west.
Obama is scheduled to sit down with CARICOM leaders for a day summit on Thursday, following up on his sessions with them in Port of Spain, Trinidad at the Americas Summit back then and a less formal encounter to the one in Cartagena, Colombia two years ago.
Senior regional experts such as Colin Granderson, the foreign affairs veteran chief at the Guyana-based CARICOM headquarters, say the region has to be delighted that Obama has found the time to visit one of the member states, to sit down and discuss bilateral issues and then also be in the same room at the Panama meeting.
“Since 2009, we have only been able to meet with him once informally on the sidelines in Cartagena, Colombia so our sense is that this is a very important opportunity for us to build and improve relations at the highest levels of government. The summit is an important gesture on the part of President Obama. We think that energy will be an important part of the summit agenda. As we know, the U.S. is a major producer and exporter now so we will see what happens.”
CARICOM is upbeat about an energy announcement because leaders had flown to Washington in January for a few days with Vice- President Joe Biden talking mostly about energy and security issues.
Now both sides are saying that these two items will be main agenda topics for discussion. Of course, the situation in the Middle East, cross border drugs, guns and alien smuggling are also likely related topics as well as the usual plea for aid from the region.
In its own release, CARICOM raised the issue of financial graduation from countries with relatively large per capita incomes because the World Bank, other multilateral agencies and even some donor countries refused to grant concession loans to countries they say are prosperous enough to be disqualified from such, a sore point among governments.
In the meantime, the Secret Service and Jamaican officials have closed the main Knutsford Boulevard artery in trendy New Kingston to traffic and have ordered businesses and other places to be closed to facilitate the visit and security arrangements until after Obama leaves late Thursday after 20 hours in Jamaica.
In short, people who live in the capital and frequent national parks, play fields, restaurants and other public spaces have been asked to forget about this for the moment as those in the targeted area will be closed.
Other American presidential visits came from Bill Clinton to Barbados in 1997, Reagan to Barbados also in 1982, Grenada in 1986, three years after the American invasion of the island, and Bill Clinton to Barbados in 1997 in recent years.